Nantucket Arts Festival -September/October 2011

by: Joshua H. Balling

After a one-year hiatus, the NANTUCKET ARTS FESTIVAL, a celebration of the visual, performing and literary arts 30 miles out to sea, returns to the island SEPTEMBER 30-OCTOBER 9

The 10-DAY FESTIVAL, spread out over multiple venues around town, is headquartered in Preservation Hall, upstairs at 11 Centre St. which will also play host to a number of activities, including an “Artisans Talk Show” series and a special art exhibit.

The Arts Festival, founded 20 years ago by the Arts Alliance of Nantucket and overseen by the Nantucket Arts Council since the organizations merged in 1999, allows island artists from multiple disciplines to showcase their work at a time of year when the summer crowds have gone but the island is still buzzing with activity, festival chairperson Arlene O’Reilly said.

“The Arts Council’s mission is to support all the arts, in any creative vein, whether it’s the visual arts, literary arts or performing arts, and raise awareness,” she said. “What better way to do that than in a festival that everybody can get excited about? (Arts Council president) Reggie Levine once told me he wanted to see Nantucket established as a cultural-arts destination. This is a step in that direction.”

A number of new events are scheduled this year, including an Arts Passport initiative. Equal parts calendar of events and an incen- tive program, the Arts Passport will include a comprehensive schedule and a detailed map pinpointing the downtown location of each event. Passports will be stamped to show attendance, and passport-users will be eligible for a gift promotion at the close of the festival.

Also new this year are gallery walking tours led by Arts Council board and committee members. The tours will include conversations about the history of art on Nantucket and introductions to the gallery directors who will speak about the artists they represent.

The Artisans Talk Show series will feature island artists and artisans – from painters and actors to writers and fashion- designers – describing what they do in seven-minute presentations, followed by a seven-minute question and answer period.

“That’s going to be an interesting thing,” O’Reilly said. “We’re filling the slots with Nantucket people who make their living off their talent here.”

Returning festival favorites include open houses and demonstrations by island artists, special exhibitions at galleries and restaurants, an organ crawl, theater performances, poetry readings, lectures and film screenings. The festival culminates in the long-running Artists Association of Nantucket wet-paint auction, in which island artists create new works the day before or on the same day they hit the auction block.

The festival is a tangible way for the Arts Council, which sponsors a number of cultural activities over the course of the year, including an annual winter concert series and in the past a Shakespeare Festival, to shine a spotlight on the importance of the arts to the island.

“Imagine what Nantucket would be like if it were just black and white, completely gray, with no color. If you took away the creative aspects of our community, the people who live here that make a living from our creative resources, it chips away at the cultural fabric,” O’Reilly said.

“It doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, or what tax bracket you’re in, people use and view art as a form of expression. Nantucket is already a diverse community. We have quite a mix of cultures living here. There is a whole group of people we’re starting to see pop up, particularly in the younger audiences, doing some pretty interesting stuff.”

Collaboration is a central theme in this year’s festival, O’Reilly said. In that vein, “ambassadors” were recruited from each of the island’s nonprofit organizations early on to develop programming for the festival.

A number of groups have events scheduled, including a screening of Paul Sanderson’s film “Texas Towers,” a multimedia presentation by island photographer Terry Pommett of his recent trip to China, and Richard Clark’s one-man show as Ernest Hemingway at the Nantucket Atheneum.

The Nantucket Historical Association’s activities are headquartered at the recently-reopened Greater Light, and include a poetry slam in conjunction with Spoken Word Nantucket, and a speaker discussing the island’s arts community in the early 20th century, when Greater Light was owned by the Monaghan Sisters, who hosted salons at their Howard Street property featuring some of Nantucket’s most prominent artists and literary figures. 

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